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Building Regulations (Thermal Efficiency)

Volume 488: debated on Tuesday 3 March 2009

1. What plans she has to improve levels of compliance with the provisions of building regulations on thermal efficiency of houses. (259884)

Before I reply to the question, let me say that I am very conscious that Ivan Cameron’s funeral took place today. I am sure the whole House will wish me to say that our thoughts and prayers are with David and Samantha on what must be a particularly unbearable day.

Our proposals to strengthen the energy efficiency provisions of the building regulations in 2010 will include comprehensive plans to build on previous measures to improve compliance. A number of other initiatives are also under way, including reform of the building control process, extending the powers for prosecution, and simplifying guidance.

I am pleased to hear of the revision of enforcement measures. Does the Minister acknowledge that there is plenty of evidence that, with the development of new technologies and materials, there is an increasing shortfall in the standards of energy efficiency measures applying to new homes? Will he use the problems created by the slump in the building industry as an opportunity to develop an effective enforcement regime and to ensure that there is proper training in the construction industry so that it can deliver the standards that are necessary?

I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a particular interest in this subject, and what he has said makes a good deal of sense. We have been working closely with key industry stakeholders in the run-up to a public consultation scheduled for April this year. It is vital for us to try to increase the skills and capability of the industry in order to improve energy efficiency. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the present circumstances present a huge opportunity for Britain and the British economy to ensure that homes are energy-efficient, and also to help to stimulate the construction industry.

Two or three companies in my constituency want to engage in new kinds of house construction, and are keen to discuss with the Minister how new systems of build can be delivered. Will he agree to meet those companies so that we can help them to grow, build new homes and provide new jobs in our local economy?

I am aware that my hon. Friend takes a particular interest in housing. I greatly enjoyed the housing summit that he arranged in Telford a couple of weeks ago. He is playing a leading role in trying to secure the housing that is needed there and elsewhere. I should be more than happy to meet him and representatives of construction firms in his constituency to ensure that modern methods of construction are adopted, both in Telford and generally.

I thank the Minister for his kind words to David and Samantha Cameron.

I am sure we all agree with the thrust of this question. Of course we should all like to see an improvement in the thermal efficiency of housing and a reduction in its carbon footprint; no sensible person would not. However, does the Minister agree with me, and with representatives of the Council of Mortgage Lenders with whom I had lunch in the House a short time ago, that a significant brake is being put on the housing market at present by something that he could put right at a stroke—the problem of home information packs?

A key aspect of HIPs is the energy performance certificate. At a time when people are concerned about rising fuel bills and the economy in general, up-front information about the energy efficiency of a home is helpful to them. In this day and age we need to provide real help with a range of matters, and the energy efficiency of homes is an important part of that.

The manufacture of building materials is a very important industry in my constituency, which is part of a mineral-rich county. Relatively recently, I talked to a manufacturer of chimney linings who suggested that over-zealous implementation of the revised building regulations was leading to the slow death of the British chimney because of its thermal inefficiency. Does the Minister agree that the chimney is important, aesthetically, structurally and in health terms, that we need ventilation, and that we do not want to live in hermetically sealed tombs? Will he agree to discuss the topic with me?

I do agree with my hon. Friend. In revising the relevant part of the building regulations, we have tried not only to improve compliance and provide extra training, but to issue more guidance to contractors and others so that they can perform the vital task of ensuring that such things as chimneys are energy-efficient. I should be more than happy to meet him to discuss the matter further.

May I pursue the question asked by the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright)? Has the Minister had any discussions with the Department of Energy and Climate Change about the development of zero-carbon homes? I believe that the current situation would provide an opportunity for pilots to be set up if grants were available. I understand that none is available at present.

We are still consulting on the definition of zero carbon, and we are working closely with DECC colleagues. As the hon. Gentleman will know, on 12 February our two Departments launched the heat and energy saving strategy, which is arguably the most ambitious climate change-related initiative in the world. It sets out the Government’s ambitious long-term plan to draw up a route map with the aim of enabling all United Kingdom homes to produce near-zero carbon emissions by 2050. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join us in ensuring that it works, and that we see real energy efficiency in homes.

I thank the Minister for his typically decent and kind words of sustenance for David and Samantha Cameron.

Is it not a cheek for Ministers to lecture everyone else when their own modern headquarters at Eland house has one of the worst energy efficiency ratings of any building, with its display energy certificate getting a risible F rating, which is the second lowest? Does that not reinforce the criticism of the Sustainable Development Commission that

“The government’s own record looks weak”?

Should not Ministers start to show some leadership and sort out their own backyard first?

Eland house was built in the 1990s, I believe by Michael Heseltine, and it is somewhat showing its age—rather like the Opposition Front Bench. We are keen to ensure that we have the most efficient type of buildings available. The energy performance certificate for Eland house can provide information on how we can improve the energy efficiency of the building. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in ensuring that such certificates provide relevant information to improve matters, rather than sitting on the sidelines sniping.